Sunday, September 02, 2012

Worth a Try?

Yesterday took a look at the website recommended by Julie (re wartime rations) and it was extremely interesting and informative. Do hope all readers will have a look-see and send in their thoughts. Website is :

We see a photo of a lady with her four children with a table laden with a week's rations for them all. Was not sure it was actually as good as that at 'real time' for Spam didn't appear in this country until the end of the war, and some of the fruit and veggies didn't seem to share the same season. As citrus fruit was hardly ever on sale (oranges only to the young), what looked like lemons were possibly quinces.
Also it would be very unlikely all that food would have been bought at one time (as we often do today when shopping at a supermarket. In those days mothers/cooks used to go shopping almost every day to buy food, quite necessary to do this as no-one knew when the next lot of unrationed food (fish) etc, would arrive in the shops, and as soon as it did a queue would start, so when anyone saw a queue they would immediately join it not even knowing what the queue was for, the very fact it was for something scarce was good enough.

During the war years there would be no unemployment, able people would have to go and fight for their country, or work down the mines etc. Women without small children would work on the land, in munitions factories, be bus conductresses, drive ambulances etc, also join the services, so whereas today we can only buy food we can afford, in those days most people had enough money to buy much more food than the ration, but had no way of doing so other than through the 'Black Market' where 'spivs' illegally sold rationed products (food, elastic, buttons, cigarettes, spirits, petrol coupons....) for very high prices indeed. If you were caught dealing (and possibly buying) the penalties were great.

Thanks Les for giving me the details to get translations when needed. Also for giving the dates when different things were rationed, and also freed. People who lived through the first World War - when I don't think food was rationed - realised how difficult things could become and when World War II was about to start, rapidly built up some stores of canned and packet foods et al. I remember my mum keeping hers on shelves under the stairs, and later - when we moved to 'digs' in Leamington, having them kept in cardboard boxes under my bed. All were kept to be used only on special occasions, like opening a tin of salmon to make sandwiches at Christmas.

Evacuees were taken in not just to feed the children better Les, they were subject to rationing as was everyone else (children's rations being half that of adults). Evacuees left their homes to get them away from being caught (and killed) in air-raids. Many went to places where they were fed quite poorly (worse than when they lived at home), the persons taking them in using the children's rations to supplement their own.
Anyone who had a spare room in a 'safe' area was obliged to take in evacuees whether they wanted to or not. My mother took in several over, the first being two sets of 'refugees' whose homes were bombed flat in Coventry (where we lived at that time and remember we had no gas, electricty or water for several days to to the Blitz, mum having to cook for all over the living room fire - and without having the refugees 'rations' either). When we moved to Leamington Spa, we had a Jewish Czech lady and son billeted with us, they had fled their country to avoid being taken prisoner by the Germans. In Leicester we took in a girl whose home was in London, her brother being taken in by our next door neighbour.
If people didn't take in evacuees, then they had to allocate a room for service men and women, or anyone from the medical profession etc.

The £1 a day target Cheesepare was one originally set as a means to raise money for charity. The aim was for everyone who takes part to give the money they might normally have spent (and therefore saved) to charity.

I've taken a note of the rations listed in the above-mentioned newspaper article and as well as photographing them will also work out the cost. The lady who did this trial for the feature did say it worked out half the price she would normally have spent, and her children seemed all the better for the more restricted diet.

What saddened me a bit was reading that a dietitian/nutritionist (or someone) said how plain the meals would be and there was no real pleasure in eating as there is today. The lady who did this trial seemed to feel it also took more time to prepare (than presumably she could be bothered with). This in a way almost proves how we have moved on from the 'eat to live' attitude to the now 'live to eat', and eat foods that take the least time to prepare, and preferably that someone else had made/manufactured.
Seems nowadays that all foods we eat have to be thoroughly enjoyed to the extent of every meal being almost 'as good as a feast', and yet how often do we see people stuffing their faces (and have to admit this can be me at times) without even really tasting (or enjoying) what is being eaten. Just eating for the sake of it. Either way, having food we like to eat always being 'on tap' (we can eat strawberries in December for instance) doesn't give us much to look forward to other than eating twice as much of everything at Christmas etc.

Maybe it would be good to go back to eating 'good plain food' and also cut out the snacking in between meals. Then, maybe once a week (better still once a month), have an extra special meal that we really take pleasure in eating. As well as giving us something to look forward to, this could also help to save money. Eat foods when only in season then - when it comes to strawberry time (and many other short-season foods) - we really do have something to look forward to.
There isn't anything very much today we have to look forward to other than perhaps a holiday and then (if in this country) the weather lets us down. Or - if going abroad - there are problems with delayed flights, lost luggage, and the cost of it all!

I've written down the listed rations CP, and will photograph one person's allowance as this gives a better impression of how little there would be to work with.
Regarding your mention of pork, my choice of cut would always be belly pork as one of the cheapest 'joints'. Gammon also (when on offer) as when cooked for 'ham' can make plenty of meals (eaten cold with salad, made into sarnies etc....).

What a marathon shop you did Jane. Sounds as though you can now last through the winter without buying anything more than just topping up the fresh (milk, eggs, fats, some veggies). See how long you can manage to last without stepping into a supermarket (other than for the 'top up').

One more reply, again to Les, re kosher salt. Professional cooks ALWAYS prefer to use this for what must now be obvious reasons, but you, me and other domestic cooks do not need to take such care as to the quality of ingredients we use. Just follow what is suggested in a recipe if we can, if not use what salt we have.
Centuries ago (think in Roman times) salt was so prized that it was given as payment instead of
money. Only in recent times has there been more choice of salt (many listed by Les), in my day it was either a block of salt bought for cooking (and my job - as a child - was to shave it with a knife to break it down into crystals and it took AGES. I still have the knife, its blade worn almost down due to the countless blocks I was given to break down), or we had the free-running table salt that most of us still use today (although I prefer to use sea or rock salt when I can).

Another thing that has 'improved' over the years are the other 'condiments'. In my youth it was only white pepper that was used (this becoming more fashionable to use today), whereas now it seems to be 'freshly ground' black pepper we all use.
Vinegar was once either malt or the distilled clear 'white', but now we can buy pickling vinegar (malt or white), red and white wine vinegars, balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and several other types as well.
Before and during war-time fats were used for frying and the only oil on sale was cod-liver oil and olive oil (both bought from a chemist for medicinal purposes). Olive oil took some years to reach our shore as a 'cooking ingredient', and now we also have a wide variety of these, all slightly different in flavour according to which country it came from and whether 'extra virgin' or a less quality.
Maybe we are getting spoilt for choice when it comes to certain ingredients and can't say I can notice any difference at all with the final taste of a dish when one variety is used instead of another. Although have to say that it COULD make a difference if our palate is that finely tuned.
But not enough to matter, say I.

Yesterday cooked half of my bulk purchase of stewing meat. As done in the slow cooker then left overnight to cool it has reabsorbed some of the wonderfully rich gravy, and the meat has now been packed into small bags (each enough to make a casserole to feed B - with a taster of meat for me) and put into the freezer. All the gravy has been left in the crockpot and have now added two 1lbs of minced beef to this to slow-cook today. Will again leave it to get cold before I bag it up and freeze as doing this helps it to absorb some of the liquid back (well it did last time, so why not now).

The gravy itself was some from a last batch that had been frozen. When taking it from the freezer saw it had a layer of beef fat on the top, so was able to prise this off, melt it and pour it into a pot to leave by the hob to use for frying/roasting etc. As this is 'free fat', saves quite a bit as I then don't have to use oil (or butter).
I thawed the gravy and boiled it up for several minutes before putting into the crock pot and adding the meat, and now it is even 'richer'. Some will be frozen as stock to use when making gravy, and some will be cooked with onions, other veggies, lentils etc to make soup. Just love the smell in the kitchen when slow-cooking meat, so very comforting. Always makes me feel hungry.

This weekend have discovered it is Morecambe Festival (Saturday and Sunday). Beloved is out with his sailing buddies, presumably the club will be having a dingy/yacht race (B drives the safety boat). If the weather stays fair I might just go out with Norris and see 'what's occurin', on the other hand may stay indoors and cook (that is something I always enjoy doing).

We had Chinese takeaway last night (not sure why when I have a kitchen full of food, but had been busy dividing up the various meats and packing most away, cooking some etc, also sorting out more of my larder, then making a batch of ice-cream for B, potting it up in small containers so he doesn't eat more than a fair share in one go. Think I had my share of dealing with food for the day and wanted someone else to make a meal for me (B having not yet got as far as being able to cook a meal for me as well as himself). Today B will have the smoked mackerel he put into the shopping basket at Barton Grange, and for myself may end up with a salad and 'something'.

Late finishing writing this morning as Gill phoned so we had our usual hour-long chat. Must now toddle off into the kitchen and get a double batch of bread dough started in the machine, then when ready will form it into loaves, baps and whatever shapes take my fancy.
Will also sort out the 'rations' and work out the cost. Hopefully the results (photo etc) will appear tomorrow. See you then I hope. Enjoy your day.